Schools Of The Future
Britain’s first state-funded online school, the ‘Wey Ecademy’ could open as early as September 2015 following plans to offer disruption free education to hundreds of students without requiring them to leave their home. The school would be officially based in Buckinghamshire, but all the teaching accomplished entirely by virtual methods. Children aged 9 to 19 would be able to log into web-based classrooms from their home computers, where they would receive up to four hours of direct tuition each day through a secure intranet connection. Each class will consist of a maximum of 20 students, with 100 in each year group, and during the online lessons pupils will be able to ask the teacher questions or collaborate with their classmates via an audio link or instant messaging service. Wey Ecademy plans to offer a full curriculum, including the International GCSE and A-Levels.
The proposals submitted to the Department for Education would come under the government’s ‘free schools’ programme, which allows new institutions to be set up and run by parents, charities and religious bodies, entirely independent of the local council. Wey Ecademy follows in the footsteps of other ‘Moocs’ (massive open online courses) run by various large universities globally, and would not be the first entirely online education provider, but certainly the first state funded virtual school in the UK.
Eliminating Wasted Lesson Time
The Wey Education Schools Trust cites studies that show much of traditional lesson time is wasted due to disruptive behaviour from other pupils, such as chatting, speaking over the teacher, not following instructions or getting on with work, acting out for attention, using mobile phones in lessons, showing a lack of respect for other students or staff, or not bringing the correct equipment. A report by Ofsted in September noted the concern of parents and teachers over the frequently lost learning time, which can have a detrimental effect on the life chances of many students. The report argued that in too many cases, school leaders are failing to deal with disruptive behaviour at an early stage, and this led to an hour of wasted learning time each day (or 38 days a year) in English schools. Additionally, this daily challenge to maintain necessary levels of discipline discourages many good teachers from the profession.
Students learning through an E-school avoid the issue of disrupted classes. There is no hurried commute in the mornings or afternoons, and no rushing about from classroom to classroom between each lesson. Learning is done at the student’s own pace and in whatever environment they feel is most beneficial to them; whether they prefer complete silence or background music. For too many students at present, having a calm and orderly environment for their education is a lottery, and both pupils and parents report lack of discipline as a key frustration. The personal approach of an E-school avoids one student’s wasted time affecting others.
Missed Social Opportunities
The number one concern cited by opponents of the virtual school model is that students would lack the means of socialising with their peers. Traditional schooling does provide the opportunity for children to develop necessary social skills through regular face to face interaction, and it may be assumed that any type of home-based education is simply exchanging disruptive interaction for no interaction at all. However, proponents would argue that beneficial socialisation can take place outside of lessons. In fact, with less time wasted during classes, students would have more time available for sports, drama club, music practice, or any other activities they are interested in. There is little evidence to suggest that children educated outside of traditional ‘brick schools’ are automatically destined to become social outcasts in adulthood. One study by Medlin (2000) found that home-schoolers consistently scored equal to or better than peers in regular school on various measures of self-concept and self-esteem (a core element of socialisation). Another study of over 7,300 adults who were home-schooled in the USA concluded that these individuals tended to be successful and actively involved members of their community compared to the general population (Ray, 2003). Such findings should serve to dispel fears that virtual schools would prevent students from developing necessary social skills.
If the workforce of the future is set to become further digitalised, with employees teleworking either some or all of the time from remote locations through video conferencing, email and messaging service and cloud-based work sharing, then it seems only natural that other social institutions such as education should follow suit.
- Deloitte (2013) ‘Workplaces of the Future: Creating an Elastic Workplace’. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/dk/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/Workplaces_of_Future.pdf [Accessed December 10th 2014].
- Medlin, R.G. (2000) ‘Home Schooling and the Question of Socialization’. Peabody Journal of Education 75(1/2)107:123. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1080/0161956X.2000.9681937#.VIojqqNXuqM [Accessed December 11th 2014].
- Ofsted (2014) ‘Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms’. Available at: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/below-radar-low-level-disruption-country%E2%80%99s-classrooms [Accessed December 10th 2014].
- Ray, B.D. (2003) Home schooling grows up. Salem: National Home Education Research Institute.
- Wey Ecademy (2014) ‘What is an ecademy?’ Available at: http://www.weyecademy.com/index.php/about-wey/what-is-an-ecademy [Accessed December 10th 2014].